Staying married is hard work

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holding hands

“We’re still havin’ fun and you’re still the one.”

— Orleans

As someone who has been married for over two decades and who has written about my marriage and family for nearly that long, I am often asked what the secret to a happy marriage is.

That is an impossible question. I think happiness is an ever-moving target.

I can tell you that last week it went something like this:

Marriage is hiding the last KCup coffee pod we have in the house from Mr. Wonderful so I can have it for myself in the morning.

True Love is feeling guilty the next morning and telling Mr. Wonderful where to find it.

Soulmate is when he says I can have it anyway. It truly is the little things.

Good examples

I have been blessed to be surrounded by people who have been married a long time.

The couples of the 1950s and 1960s who smiled for Kodachrome photos. The couples of the 1970s who danced to We’ve Only Just Begun by the Carpenters at the reception (I think it might have been the law at that time).

The folks who eloped (raises hand) and the people who wore puffy sleeves, long veils, and even cowboy hats down the aisle (you do you, girl!)

However you were married, if you were and made it last for decades, I celebrate you.

Keyword is ‘happily’

What do almost all those couples seem to have in common? They laugh off an awful lot of “outside influences.”

Happily married couples tend to look back and remember when the months lasted longer than the money, the kids had fevers, and everything in the household broke at once with a sort of gallows humor.

They were in it together and remember it all, if not fondly, with at least an eye for appreciating the pure thrill of survival.

I think it takes a lot of “looking back and laughing” to make spending day and night for decades on end with the exact same person go smoothly.

Laugh at yourselves. Laugh at the situation. Laugh at other people (but never your spouse — unless they laugh first).

Some other great advice I have gleaned from the happily married (as opposed to just “married”):

Communicate. Unless you are circus folk, you probably didn’t marry a mind reader. Say what you want. Explain in detail if necessary.

People don’t argue over leaving the cap off the toothpaste so much as they argue over their partner not understanding what is important to them. After a few years, that endlessly missing cap can really make some folks stabby. Don’t risk it.

On that note, we do need to accept that people are wired differently. It took years for Mr. Wonderful to accept that I like a clean house. Not white glove, OCD clean. Just tidy.

Now he tries. Bless his heart. He does. He carries laundry down and tries to remember to put his coat away.

For my part, I have learned that he is simply not wired to put function over form. He is always going to leave the tool in the last place he used it (he might need it there again, after all). He is always going to have a little packrat pile of things in the barn.

Where I would be thrilled with military order and precision, he is tickled when he (and he alone) knows exactly where to find something. His system works for him. I’ve learned to find it adorable.

I’ve also learned to keep my own hammer in the house.

Be nice. To me, this is the absolute simplest habit of a happy relationship. I have seen and heard people speak to their spouse in a derisive way that they would never use on a stranger or friend.

The way we speak to one another sets the tone for an entire relationship. Constantly sounding aggrieved, annoyed and condescending is not a pleasant way to speak to anyone.

I have not always been successful at this, which leads me to this next bit of advice:

Apologize. Learn to say “I’m sorry” and mean it. If you (or I) are wrong — apologize. Then don’t do it again.

That last part is crucial. Saying “I’m sorry” as a sort of “means nothing” placeholder when you intend to repeat the exact same transgression makes an apology meaningless.

When I snap at him — I apologize. No one wants to live with a grump after all.

Every marriage has its own quirks. One thing I find comforting, however, is to see people who have been married a while and not only tolerate — but actually seem to enjoy each other.

I have often teased Mr. Wonderful that he might as well choose to find me charming since 40-60 years is an awfully long time to have to grit your teeth.

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Warm, witty and just a wee bit warped, Kymberly Foster Seabolt is a native of Kent, Ohio, who survived childhood exposure to disco and grew up to marry and move to the country. Her column weaves her special brand of humor with poignant, entertaining, and honest portrayals of parenting, marriage, and real life. She currently lives in northeastern Ohio with her husband, two children, two dogs, two cats, and numerous dust bunnies who wish to remain nameless.

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